Representatives from the UK Government signalled their continuing support for better access to justice in Sierra Leone, at the launch of the Legal Aid Board on Thursday 8 September. The launch is part of the Ministry of Justice’s ‘‘Scaling Up Access to Justice Leaving No One Behind’’ campaign. Accessible and sustainable legal aid helps protect basic human rights, for example by giving remand prisoners access to justice after waiting years for their day in court.
Speaking at the event, the Deputy High Commissioner, Paul McGrade, said the UK had supported progress on access to justice in Sierra Leone for many years. DFID work, including the Access to Justice and Security Programme (ASJP), helped pave the way for the Legal Aid Act 2012, establish the Legal Aid Board and support its first strategy. He said that Legal Aid was the way to make a reality of Sierra Leone’s Constitutional commitment that no citizen is denied justice by reason of economic or other disability.
The passing of the Legal Aid Act in 2012 was an essential first step towards access to legal advice for ordinary Sierra Leoneans, who would otherwise have been unable to afford it. Widespread and sustainable Legal Aid is essential to deliver the wider reforms to the justice system which the Minister of Justice and the Chief Justice are pursuing. It underpins efforts to improve courts’ management of their cases, and improve accountability in the criminal justice system.
Mr McGrade said adequate resourcing of the justice system now and in the future would be vital. The Ministry of Justice had announced extra resources to provide more magistrates and State prosecutors across the country. Adequate resourcing of the Legal Aid Board would be just as vital. Ultimately its success would be measured by the number of people, particularly among the poorest in society, who secure access to justice.